Sep
27

What is an American Muslim?

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im's "What is an American Muslim? Embracing Faith and Citizenship" (2014) is an Oxford publication, written in what seems like a world away in terms of US identity politics. The book is largely not what the title reads "What is..." but rather "What should...". Although the author has produced some interesting works (for example, a 1995 book Human Rights in Cross Cultural Context), this one does not stand out. In the ten years since publication, there have been 26 citations, several of which are critical book reviews. This book sat on my shelf for some years, and I can't recall where or how this book came to my attention. Some (debate-starting) notes:

"To realize this vision of citizenship and meaning for themselves, and to uphold it for others, American Muslims must join general political and social life—in solidarity and common cause with other citizens—and begin exercising their rights to democratic self-governance. To earn the rights of citizenship, Muslims must assume the responsibilities of citizens. In engaging a proactive citizenship, American Muslims should seek to integrate on their own terms as persons and communities, rather than abandoning their religious self-determination through passive assimilation. This includes the constant evolution and reformation of American Muslims' identities in relation to national identity." (p. 6-7)

"The idea of an Islamic state that enforces Sharia as the positive law of the state is, from an Islamic point of view, both conceptually untenable and practically counterproductive. It is untenable because, once Sharia norms are enshrined in law, they cease to be the religious law of Islam and become the political will of that state. Moreover, given the wide diversity of opinion among Muslim scholars and schools of thought, enacting any of those norms as state law will mean having to select among competing views that are equally legitimate. Since that selection will be made by whoever happens to be in control of the state, the outcome will be political, rather than religious. Why will this process be counterproductive? By suppressing competing views, it will necessarily deny some Muslims their religious freedom. I am therefore advocating the institutional separation of religion and the state, while recognizing and regulating the unavoidable connection between religion and politics." (p. 22)

"My own answer for such questions, for which I believe to be religiously accountable, is that Islamic religious doctrine is historically contextual, a product of human interpretation, and not immutable or divine as such. Accordingly, I would first oppose the application of any Sharia norm as the positive law of the state, as explained in chapter 1. Second, I would oppose the community-based practice of dated human interpretations of Sharia that are no longer appropriate in today's context." (p. 172) 

  431 Hits
Jun
18

Two Arabs, A Berber and a Jew

Writing anthropological and ethnographic research can be quite challenging. The experiences are so rich that one may not know where to begin and where to end. In "Two Arabs, A Berber and a Jew: Entangled Lives in Morocco" (2016), Lawrence Rosen provides an exemplary model for anyone grappling with these questions. To do so, he draws on experiences in Morocco over a period of nearly sixty years. The book weaves in a diverse set of literature, from history to political science and works of fiction. Many books are biographical in nature, and at first glance this book might appear to be the story of four lives, which is partly is. However, the author uses these stories to tell other stories (the first delves into Moroccan history, the second a sort of Moroccan cultural Islam 101, the third and fourth cover the lives and experiences of Berbers and Jews). For anyone interested in Morocco, this is an excellent book. And, for anyone interested in how good anthropological and ethnographic research can be made accessible to a broader readership, this is an important read.

What one "feels" as a reader, is Rosen's deep respect for the people with whom he interacts. It is not easy to convey this (although the contrary is easy). For example, he opens the book by stating: "Ordinary people have intellectual lives. They may never have written a book; they may never even have read one. But their lives are rich in ideas, constantly fashioned and revised, elaborated and rearranged." (xi) Small comments throughout give one the sense of the authors love, appreciation, and respect for the people of Morocco. This might be common amongst anthropologists, but difficult to convey in academic works such as this (published by a university press; it, however, lacked in-text references in a number of places, including for direct quotes, which was not expected of such a publication).

Rosen also speaks about, and back to the discipline of Anthropology, throughout. I found these additions quite insightful, and coming from a seasoned anthropologist, quite informative. For example: "Anthropologists, Levi-Strauss once quipped, are radicals at home and conservatives abroad. Whether as the perpetrators or the victims of functionalism - a theory that emphasizes the contribution of each element to the continued working of a whole society but that, as a result, has always had trouble with accounting for change - we anthropologists often have to make a real effort when we study others to note the alterations such theories may obscure. And, wary of appearing judgmental, we often avoid discussions of discontinuities unless we can imagine ourselves allied with the politically correct side in the equation of power. Morocco in particular may not seem to lend itself to a focus on discontinuity. Instead it seems to embrace the continuous - one king for decades, one dynasty for centuries, one religion for millennia. It sometimes becomes an exercise in pressing the limits of predilection and profession, then, to attend to change when neither the subject nor the theories are altogether hospitable to it." (p. 231)

I was recently listening to a Professor in Ethiopia, who explained that often we miss some of the socio-cultural aspects which limit or enable opportunities. In that case, that while opportunities might be granted to certain people, they may not be able to benefit by them is the broader society refuses to purchase from them. A few lines from Rosen also reflected some of this socio-cultural complexity. For example, in a "list of occupations practiced by Muslims and Jews in Sefrou in 1924 is instructive in this regard. Note that all of the tinsmiths and porters, for example, were Jews. This, older Muslims told me, was because the tinsmiths were also plumbers and had to enter a Muslim's house where they would see the women and belongings of the homeowner. But whereas the Muslims were not eager for fellow Muslims to see such things in their homes, the Jews could be expected to remain discreet and, since they were not potential martial partners or political allies, their knowledge of one's household situation was not going to bear on subsequent relationships." (p. 290)

  1098 Hits
Subscribe to receive new blog posts via email